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Pittsburgh Tunnels Traffic Incident Management Team improves tunnel safety

August 30, 2019 12:00 AM
By: Ben DeVore

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Pittsburgh is known as the Steel City or City of Bridges, but an equally fitting name would be the City of Tunnels. As the only district with a Tunnel Maintenance Organization, PennDOT District 11 is home to the Fort Pitt, Squirrel Hill, Liberty, and Stowe tunnels. 

The tunnels are critical for moving traffic in and out of the city each day. Therefore, anytime an incident occurs inside or even near the tunnels, it has a significant impact on traffic. Tunnel staff respond to over 2,500 incidents each year varying from loose animals, vehicles running out of gas, or major crashes. Tunnel maintainers operate tow trucks to clear lanes and crash trucks to protect incident scenes and assist first responders.

District 11 Tunnels, with the support of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, formed the Pittsburgh Tunnels Traffic Incident Management (TIM) Team to improve incident management activities in the greater Pittsburgh area. This team consists of first responders, PennDOT, local municipalities, towing companies, Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania Turnpike, and other stakeholders. The group meets quarterly to conduct training, develop procedures, and determine other methods for improving traffic incident responses. The overall goal is to improve responder safety, to quickly clear incidents off the road, and to maintain effective and efficient communications among each organization involved.

The City of Pittsburgh Public Safety has been an active stakeholder in the TIM Team and has helped improve incident management in the region by providing public safety radios to the Fort Pitt, Squirrel Hill, and Liberty tunnels. This has tremendously improved communications with first responders handling incidents at the tunnels. 

Another significant improvement has been with training. This past spring, the TIM Team provided Federal Highway Administration Strategic Highway Research Program TIM training to all 650 firefighters from the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire. This monumental task was completed in 40 sessions and 20 days to meet the firefighters' challenging schedules. This October, the TIM Team is planning a major multidisciplinary drill at the Liberty Tunnels to test PennDOT and the city's responses to a tunnel fire.

TIM teams are just one of many strategies under Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) and are becoming more present statewide. TIM teams promote cooperation between the different organizations, which helps clear incidents faster. Clearing incidents quicker improves the reliability of our highways and reduces congestion. 

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